Facebook is killing its "Trending" feature, proving algorithms aren’t always the answer

Jun 02, 2018, 00:28
Facebook is killing its

The feature caused Facebook a massive headache in 2016, after Gizmodo reported that the humans hired to moderate content featured in the section were suppressing conservative sources. "And we're investing in ways to better draw attention to breaking news when it matters most".

To replace the trending feature Facebook is testing a breaking news label and notifications and a new section on the platform called "Today In:".

In a blog post announcing Trending section's removal, Facebook's Alex Hardiman didn't wade into political bias territory, but instead noted that the way people consume news on Facebook has changed.

The Kelly hoax was supposed to be an anomaly, but a subsequent audit by The Intercept found other instances of trending stories that were indisputably fake or profoundly inaccurate. Facebook Watch will soon have a dedicated section for live news coverage.

"From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful", Hardiman wrote in a post. The company tried to temper this by removing human reviewers who helped manage trending topics in favor of supposedly unbiased algorithms.

In 2016, reports surfaced that the Trending section suppressed conservative news stories.

Eighty publishers around the world now have access to the tool, which allows them to add a label that indicates a story is "breaking".

"Breaking news has to look different than a recipe", Hardiman said. It's being tested in 30 markets in the US. Facebook fired the team, and since then, algorithms have been largely responsible for governing what goes into the Trending sidebar, which is prominently displayed at the top of the desktop site. The product is still in what Facebook calls "alpha" testing, which indicates it's very early days for this feature - an alpha test precedes a beta test, which itself is ahead of a public launch.

Facebook says publishers featured in this section are seeing an average of an 8 percent incremental increase in distribution - meaning outbound clicks. However, the company declined to provide a list of publishers or details on the funding.

Detailed in a press release, Facebook says that its trending feature was only available in select countries and didn't prove to be popular.

Trending was introduced in 2014 but was intensely controversial from the beginning.